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31 Days of Giving on a Budget: Freezer Cooking for the Elderly (Day 16)

Welcome to Decembers series on 31 Days of Giving on a Budget. In this series, I’ll be sharing inspiring stories from my readers and posts with practical ways to give — even on a limited income.

If you have a Giving on a Budget story to share of a way you or your family has given to others this year or this holiday season, please email me your story and a picture to go along with it, if possible. I’d love to hear it and possibly share it during this series!

A guest post by Jody

My grandmother is ninety-eight years old, and until she fell six months ago she was still living relatively self-sufficiently at home. Her independence was important to her, and so she was still making most of her own meals.

Like the ideal farmer’s wife, she had spent a lifetime making spreads of pot roast, mashed potatoes, applesauce, green beans, corn, gravy, rolls, apple pie, pecan pie, butterscotch pie and cherry pie – the woman could make some pie!

At ninety-eight she just didn’t have it in her to do all that anymore. About twice a week she would make enough Cream of Wheat to last for a few days. For lunch and dinner she made simple things like grilled cheese or bread and butter. Besides that, she just couldn’t eat very much, so it seemed pointless to cook an actual meal.

During this time she started paying a service to provide meals a few times a week, but couldn’t quite boast of the flavor. We knew it was bad when my parents’ dog (who eats everything) was left in the car with one of the meals and refused to touch the main course. When even the dog won’t eat your meat, you know it’s bad!

Living over fifteen hundred miles away, I was at a loss as to how to help. I was concerned that she was not getting enough variety or nutrition in her diet, and I knew that it was quite a feat for her to pull together even the simplest of meals.

But, I had an idea!

Last November when I was there for Thanksgiving, we had our usual feast at her house — the kids and grandkids did the cooking. Despite the gluttony, there were still plenty of leftovers.

So, I pulled out her muffin tins and went to work. Using one leftover at a time, I filled the muffin tins with all the typical Thanksgiving fixings. When a tray was full I put it in the freezer and pulled it out a couple of hours later. I would let it sit a couple of minutes to loosen the food from the edges, then I would dump out the cubes, put them back into the freezer and move on to the next leftover.

I thought about putting all of the little circles into Ziploc bags according to what they were, but then decided that would be too complicated for her to get all of those bags out for one meal. Instead, I utilized her endless collection of empty cottage cheese containers. I put a cube of each item into each container, so that all she would have to do would be to pull one container out of the freezer, arrange the items on a skillet or a plate for the microwave and presto! She would have a nutritious meal of very little portions with plenty of variety and hardly any work to get it.

Since I did this at Thanksgiving, I didn’t need to do any extra food preparation for this — however I started wondering if other people would want to incorporate this kind of thing into their freezer cooking days. It could be helpful for the elderly or even a single person who wouldn’t likely be able to eat an entire lasagna or casserole if it was offered to them.

Extra Tips

Some tips I would have for doing this would be to:

  • Ask about any dietary restrictions.
  • Label the container with large print.
  • Attach any directions.
  • Write a note of encouragement or a smiley face.

Compared to all of the meals my grandma has made me over the years, I know this is just a drop in the bucket, yet I hope to bless her as she has blessed me.

Jody loves cooking in huge portions and is still learning to try a recipe out in a multiple of one before doing eight batches at once – and then realizing it’s not such a good recipe – and then eating that from the freezer for a very long time.

photo credit

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  • amy wilson says:

    Really good post. I’ve been thinking about cooking for elderly family and friends lately who can’t cook for themselves anymore.

  • Lisa says:

    This is a terrific idea. I was just contemplating this morning freezer ideas for my MIL who lives alone. Thank you.

  • Christina says:

    My dad at the age of 52 had to quit work because he had early onset Alzheimers disease. My mother was working full time. One of the blessings of homeschooling was that my children (at the time 7, 5 and 3yrs) were able to take our school work to my folks home so we were able to be with my dad. I felt it was important that my dad have healthy meals so I would bring lunch with us and make enough for my parents for supper as well. My dad didn’t mind having the same thing twice and I felt good knowing after a long day at work and an evening of caregiving ahead of her, my mother could easily enjoy a good meal. It was rewarding to do something to help my folks after all the years they had feed and loved me. It was also important to me that the children look around them, notice the needs others have and see that sometimes, people encourage us and be thankful & other times, we need to be a blessing to them. Because of the fact early onset Alz is genetic the thought that I could be modeling to them what they may be doing for me someday was huge in my mind. While we cooked I wanted it to be an act of happy service, honor towards the ones we were helping, and humility knowing that someday it could be us in the need of help.

    • Christina says:

      I should mention a big mistake that I made! I thought of making freezer meals for my parents and bought all the food I’d need to make a few extra meals. I had almost everything spread out over the table and my dad, who always had a servant’s heart, wanted to help me. I asked Dad to put into the bowl a spice I had just measured and he was happy to help, but then he kind of froze and I looked over at him and felt so sad, I can’t even tell you had bad I felt! Everything was so overwelming to him-all the items on the table, and he knew he was helping me with something but his brain couldn’t remember what….I felt so stupid. I should have done everything at my house. At the time, I thought it would be easy to put things directly into their freezer. I was so focused on my “goal” I had made a mistake. I still feel bad about that almost 9 yrs later though I know he instantly forgave me and Daddy is now safe in Heaven.

      • blessed-with-3 says:

        My heart goes out to you, Christina. I lost my Dad to early onset Alzheimer’s, as well. How fortunate am I that I had such a great Dad that I will always wish I had more time with you. Blessings to your family!

        • Shelly says:

          I cared for my grandpa who had Alzheimer’s too. It is so sad to watch someone you love fail with this disease. It robs them and their loved ones of so much. I have a special place in my heart for all of those who help to care for loved ones with this disease.

  • Wendy Kumpf says:

    Just make sure you check for dietary needs. I have a neighbor who I love to give culiary gifts to, she is diabetic so I have to be creative, but it is still possible with planning.

  • Jillian Kay says:

    What a great idea! My grandmother lived alone until she was 99, and I know she would have benefited from this.

  • Lady says:

    Isn’t this post about 5 years old? I remember it from way back!

    • Crystal says:

      Yes, you’ve got a great memory! This is a wonderful post from the archives that I thought would be perfect to include in this series!

      • Lady says:

        If you’re bringing back the old stuff, I REALLY used to enjoy the $35-$60 menus and Super Savings Saturday shopping trips. Those were my absolute favorite posts you did over the years.

        • Crystal says:

          I took a break for the summer, but I’ve started posting menus again on Mondays this fall. A new one should be up tonight. 🙂

          And SSS might be back in 2013… I’m seriously debating it as one of the possibilities for regular features in 2013. 🙂

          Thanks for your input!

          • Lady says:

            I enjoy reading the current menu plans, but it seems like they are much more expensive than the old $35-60 ones? Steak, salmon, etc are still way out of our budget. The return of SSS would be amazing!!

            • Crystal says:

              We’re still sticking with the same grocery budget ($50/week), but we were blessed with some fantastic online meat deals this past year, so that’s where the high-quality meats have been coming from. We’ve almost eaten through all of those, though, so we’ll be going back to much more simpler meals in the next few weeks.

              • Amber says:

                Wow, $50 a week! That seems amazing…I feel so far from that with my family of 6 (one of which is a baby), and feel like I’m shopping pretty frugally.

  • Tracy says:

    This is such a great post. My grandma lives close by but she is alone. Therefore she won’t cook large meals like lasagna and roasts anymore. So when we have them I put some of the leftovers into conatianers for her to have. Also she loves Turkey Noodle soup so when we have a turkey I make a big batch and spilt it up amongst a few people I know who love it but won’t make it themselves.

    Another thing is sharing some Jelly or Jam you make with your elderly loved ones, many of them made this growing up and now can’t do it themselves due to all the work involved.

  • Meagan says:

    Great post, but I had to chuckle at the mention of “endless cottage cheese containers”. My grandmother had an entire cabinet full of those, margarine tubs, and cool whip containers. She never threw anything out, even kept bread bags and twist ties. Ah, brings back memories…

  • What a great idea!

    My grandma sounds a lot like yours. She is 92 and lives alone. She’s stubborn and insists on it. Gotta love her! 🙂

  • Shelly says:

    I used to do this for my grandpa after my grandma died. I would make him up freezer dinners for each night of the week so I knew he was getting more than just cheese and crackers all day. He wanted to live on his own and this really helped him stay longer in his home on his own.
    I also do this for my mother-in-law now. I also used to take meals to my elderly neighbor when I would see him working in his yard during the day. I knew he would be tired and this way he wouldn’t have to cook for himself. I also got to hear some great stories while visiting when I would deliver his meal. I think I received so much more than I gave to him.

  • Beth says:

    Love this! Might even do this for my mom! She lives alone and works full time at 62 yo. Coming home to cook for one just doesn’t happen often. She cooks at least one big meal most weekends to spread out over the week but this would be an easy way for me to help her add variety from the meals I’m already cooking for my family.

  • Jen says:

    A few years before my grandma died, I was trying to figure out what to give her for Christmas. She didn’t need anything, really. I decided to make 3 big pots of different soups, and freeze them in portions. She loved it! I heard later, through the family grapevine, that she said it was the best gift she received that year. 🙂

    This is a great reminder, because I hadn’t thought of it for my father in law. He is 70 years old, and lives alone. I think I just figured out what to do for him this year.

  • Jenny says:


    What a beautiful suggestion and so well-written and thought out!

  • Kayla H says:

    My mom has done this in the past for a couple who have since passed away in the last year, and more recently she cooks for a friend’s elderly parents. The husband is not much of a cook, and the wife’s not able to stand for long periods of time. She just reheats the main dishes and sides that my mom makes, and this way she feels as if she is contributing to their family :). The dishes are packaged in smaller portions that are just right for two people. I have never thought about doing this with leftovers. What an awesome idea!

  • Jody says:

    Crystal, Thanks for re-posting this – it brought back good memories. I just got back from visiting her, and we had a great time together. She’ll be 101 in February. 🙂

  • Bonnie Martin says:

    I pulled this up on Pinterest while searching for recipes for my 88 y/o Mother in Law who has been my inspiration for 36 years. I’ve been preparing casseroles and soups for her for years, but muffin tin side dishes opens a whole new world for me. Thank you for posting to Pinterest!

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